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The final word

Graduates reflect on pandemic year, offer advice to incoming students

Godwin Heights — More than a quarter of their high-school career has been spent in quarantine as the nation and world dealt with the coronavirus pandemic. Now, as they move on from high school, four 2021 graduates look back on their school years, celebrating the highlights, discussing how they overcame the challenges, and offering some advice to the incoming class of 2025.

Janaya McKinney will attend Grand Rapids Community college in the fall for pre-veterinary medicine. She plans to work part-time as a veterinary assistant to gain experience for veterinary school at Michigan State University in a few years. 

High-school highlights: “Being able to attend my pharmacy technology class at the Kent Career Tech Center, compete in a vet science regional and state competition, compete in varsity competitive cheer, singing and winning second place in the school talent show. Also, getting a car and being accepted into Hope College.”

Some of the challenges: Janaya said hers were social and academic. “I was a virtual student all year. Because of COVID, I wasn’t able to create relationships with my senior teachers or my classmates as well as I could have with being in person. This made learning difficult, especially because I had pre-calculus and I had to teach myself by reading about it. Being virtual also gave me a lot of freedom since I only had two classes, so I had to learn how to manage time as well as find a quiet space to do my work while the rest of my family was home.”

On the social side, she said “not being able to have a Homecoming dance, pep rallies, or other fun senior activities made this year very boring. I feel like it created a wall between students because they weren’t able to interact socially.” Fortunately, health restrictions were loosened toward the end of the year and “with us able to have a prom and graduation, I was able to unite with my class for the final time.”

Advice for incoming freshmen and others: “Work hard and take school seriously, especially if you want to go to college. Having a good and consistent attitude toward school will really make it easier, but it won’t be easy. Show up to class and participate; that will help make your learning experience better. Getting involved with sports, clubs and volunteer opportunities will also make your experience ten times better. If you do so, you’ll have many memorable and unique times with your friends and community. 

“And of course, enjoy it while it lasts because it will go by faster than you think.”

Diamond Johnson (Courtesy)

Diamond Johnson said she plans to head to Kentucky State University to get a degree in athletic training.

High-school highlights: “Projects, school events like sports, and special days like Challenge Day.” (These are one-day events involving staff and students aimed at building empathy, leadership and inspiring change.) “I enjoyed all my sports teams, and one of my favorite moments was seeing one of my best friends getting hit by a ball then the ball hitting my coach. Some of my other best times were meeting teachers who are my favorites right now.”

Some of the challenges: “Not having the will to keep moving and/or finish my work. Sometimes I was overwhelmed, (so) all I did was ask for help. One other major challenge I went through was COVID and watching my mom being one of the first people to experience it in our state. I don’t know how I got through it, I just did because I had to be there for my mom and not give up.” 

Advice for incoming freshmen and others: “Asking for help is going to be a huge factor in your success anywhere. Clarify things, get an understanding and learn from it.” And, “stay in class. Don’t follow trends to fit in; be yourself.”

Ja’kaya Lay (Courtesy)

Ja’kaya Lay has attended district schools since kindergarten. She will  attend Grand Rapids Community College with plans to pursue a major in broadcasting or physical therapy. 

High-school highlights: Homecoming week and Mock Rock plays. “Our class was the most musical and creative class when It comes to activities like those, and that’s one of the biggest things I am going to miss about this class.” 

Some of the challenges: “I was a very social person, and I would always talk instead of doing work, which left me behind in my school work. One thing that I wished I would’ve done differently was always focus on school first, instead of anything else.”

Advice for incoming freshmen and others: “Don’t slack off your first year, because it’s going to be really hard to make it up at the end. But also, enjoy and cherish your four years of high school. I know I did.”

Jada Ash (Courtesy)

Jada Ash is headed to Grand Rapids Community College. She is thinking about going into music production, but is willing to let more exploration at GRCC guide her.

Being a senior feels… “bittersweet.”

Some of the challenges: Procrastination during online learning. “Viruses can’t be predicted, unless you’re some clairvoyant. The teachers were trying their best, and I want to thank those teachers for always being there.”

Advice for incoming freshmen and others: “Oh boy, get your notebook and mechanical pencil. Not No. 2; mechanical is S-Tier. Don’t overthink what you think it will be. Don’t believe what you see in TV shows/movies about high school. It’s different for every person.” As a senior, she said, “It feels awesome to have people who will always be there for you. Don’t take that for granted. Don’t let go of them. The best advice I could ever give, from freshman to senior: You’ll have hardships… but just remember that school is mainly for learning, but you can still find the fun in it. I did. Good luck, and just keep swimming.”

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Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma is a reporter covering Kent ISD, Godwin Heights, Kelloggsville, Forest Hills and Comstock Park. The salutatorian for the Hartland Public Schools class of 1985, she changed her colors from blue and maize to green and white by attending Michigan State University, where she majored in journalism. Joanne moved to the Grand Rapids area in 1989, where she started her journalism career at the Advance Newspapers. She later became the editor for On-the-Town magazine, a local arts and entertainment publication. Her eldest daughter is a nurse, working in Holland, and her youngest attends Oakland University. Both are graduates from Byron Center High School. She is a volunteer for the Van Singel Fine Arts Advisory Board and the Kent District Library. In her free time, Joanne enjoys spending time with her family, checking out local theater and keeping up with all the exchange students they have hosted through the years. Read Joanne's full bio


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